Educational Apps

If you follow my blog you know I really try to avoid screen time.  For over a year my kids were screen free 99% of the time and it was really great for their play, imagination, behaviour and development.  Lately I’ve allowed a little in for a few reasons.  One is mostly selfish – mommy is stressed and needs a break.  Another reason is that I’m finding it hard to cover all the areas I want to in homeschool without getting very overwhelmed and a third is that Pumpkin 1 has been difficult lately and resistant to doing anything or will say she wants to do something and then put no effort or thought into it and mostly lay around or act silly.  It seems this is common at age 4.  And so I now have 2 apps on my tablet which I really love.

The first is a tracing app.  I really like it because it’s simple and not flashy and you can even turn off sounds and animation to make it really basic.  It gives a lot of options to set up the program how you want.  You can see a demo below.

 

The other one is a coding app for kindergarten.  It’s also simple, cute, with limited animation and really develops thinking and prediction skills.  It’s just the right challenge level for Pumpkin 1.  She can do it but she really has to think.

 

Pumpkin 1 wants to be an astronaut and likes the watch the videos make by Chris Hadfield and has learned things from them that can’t really be taught from books.  She even wrote him a letter and got a reply.  I also allow some Hindi or French language shows as that gives them an ear for the correct pronunciation that I can’t give them.

My goal is to still be mostly screen free.  But I’m always evaluating how I’m doing things and making changes as needed.  Whenever I see any screen time is affecting them negatively I cut it out for a while again. I wish I could be completely screen free forever but that isn’t likely and I’m not supermom.

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Bringing the Montessori Classroom Outside

Finally, beautiful weather.  Anyone who lives in a northern area where they suffer through 6 months of winter + 2 months of almost winter, knows that those nice days are like a drink of water to one wandering in the desert.  You just want to drink it all up and not miss a drop.  So, of course, I don’t want to be stuck inside doing “school” when the weather is nice and neither do the kids.  And, though I value lots of free play, I still do want to do some school activities.  The solution?  Bring the classroom outside!  I don’t just mean gross motor, outside activities, but actual Montessori materials designed to be used outside.

I didn’t want to take my actual wooden, expensive Montessori materials outside where they could easily get damaged and that’d be a lot to transport daily.  So I put together a set of Montessori like activities focusing on affordability, durability, mobility and washable  Many of these could be DIY or affordable alternatives to the Montessori materials for those on a budget.  This is part 1 of our outdoor classroom.

So the first thing for an outside classroom is the set up.  You need places to work and you need some shade from the sun. We have a table and chairs with an shade umbrella.  A magnetic whiteboard on the fence.  And a caddy that can be moved outside during the day and back in at night.  We also have a smaller umbrella that can be moved around to where it’s needed.

 

Now to our “Outside Materials”

Moveable Alphabet

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This moveable alphabet is made from magnetic foam letters by Learning Resources.  The container is the Plano Stowaway that I got on Amazon.  They fit perfectly and it makes them easily transportable and accessible.  We use them on the magnetic whiteboard on our fence.  Or we can use them on a cookie tray from the dollar store.  Being magnetic they won’t blow away when there’s a nice breeze.

We also have other regular magnetic letters that we do some upper and lower case matching with.

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Stamp Game

I really love our outdoor stamp game.  In fact, if I had thought of it sooner, I wouldn’t have purchased the stamp game at all and just used this.

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The gems are from the Dollar Store and Michaels (I had trouble finding red ones).  The pegs I already had.  You could dye them different colours with food colouring if you wanted.  You could also use plastic game tokens.  I wrote the numbers on the back of the gems with permanent marker.  The nice thing about the numbers is if you do the “1” like I did, you don’t have to worry about writing it backwards in order to look right.  The storage container is also from the Dollar Store.

I also grabbed one of our place value mats that I made. The plastic number squares are from Amazon.  I also put them in a Dollar Store container for easy use and transportation.

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The number tiles can also be used with unifix cubes for other math activities.

 

“Red” Rods

I brought out a set of our cuisenaire rods  as mini “red” rods.  I put them in a sandwich container from the Dollar Store for storage.  One could paint them all the same colour if they wanted.

 

Hundred Board

This is actually our only Hundred Board.  I never got a wooden one as this was affordable and wouldn’t shift around if bumped.  With the pieces stored in another Dollar Store container it’s easy to transport and great to use outside.  One side has numbers and the other side is a blank grid.  You can also write on it with a white board marker.

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Constructive “Triangles”

These plastic pattern blocks aren’t exactly the same as the constructive triangles but they’re great for learning shapes and how shapes fit together.  You can also print off patterns to match them to.  Dollar Store container again!

Tanagrams are also a great alternative.

Pumpkin 1 has been crazy about the Magnetic Mighty Mind.  We’ve actually had it for a few years but I just pulled it out as she was too young before.  It’s the perfect travel size and the magnets are strong so they stay in place.  The cards start off simple and get progressively more difficult.  She worked on this for about 45 mins.

 

Geo Solids

These mini Geo Solids from Learning Resources can be used to teach shapes and size.  There is 4 sizes of each.  They’re not exactly the same as the Montessori ones, mainly they’re missing the round shapes.  I threw in a little ball from the Dollar Store to teach sphere.  I worked on Small, Medium and Large with Pumpkin 2.  And I also learned the new shape – Hexagonal Prism.

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So far our outdoor classroom has been wonderful.  There’s nothing like working in the fresh air.  But there’s more!  Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Outside Classroom!

 

DIY “Sandpaper” Letters

To this point I haven’t bought the sandpaper phonograms.  The sandpaper letters didn’t get much use here so I haven’t wanted to spend the money.  I recently saw someone make their own sandpaper letters out of sticky backed felt and thought that was a great idea so I decided to make my own phonograms.

I purchased sticky backed felt from Amazon.  Then I created a template of the letters.  My template is available here: phonogram cards

I printed the template off and cut it out.  Then I traced it backwards onto the back of the felt and cut it out (don’t forget to do it backwards, I forgot the first time and had a backwards th).  I took card stock and laminated it to use as the base.  You could also use poster board.  Then I peeled the back off and stuck it on and voilà!  So simple.  You could make all your sandpaper letters this way though it is time consuming.  Right now I’m making my phonograms a few at a time.

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Teaching children to read and write – The Sound Game

When you decide to start homeschooling, if you’re starting with no outside schooling at all, this is the main challenge and probably the most intimidating; teaching your child to read and write.  We know they have to learn their letters, we know they have to learn to sound them out, we know they have to learn to write their letters.  But how does one put it all together?  How to you make a child learn and comprehend and develop a love for reading?  In traditional schooling one teaches a child to sing A,B,C,D….and the names of the letters.  Then they teach them the sounds of the letters and how to write them and read them.  Montessori approaches things different.  How I am teaching Pumpkin 1 is according to a little booklet with a long name put out by NAMATA written by Muriel Dwyer called, “A Path for the Exploration of Any Language Leading to Writing and Reading; As part of the Total Montessori Approach to the Development of Language”.  (see link to purchase, the booklet is inexpensive but shipping is rather steep)

The first step is to help develop the vocabulary of the child through interactions, stories, songs and poems.  Use lots of language with the child, their little minds at a young age absorb language and no word is too difficult for them to learn.  It’s amazing how many new words a child picks up a day.  Reading and singing to a child should not be neglected and should be a part of every day.

When a child is 2 to 2 1/2 one can begin the Sound Game or I Spy Game.  The purpose of this game is to help a child understand that words are made up of sounds and to attune the child’s ear to hear all the different sound that make up a word.  You start off very simple by holding an object and saying, “I spy/I am holding something that starts with ‘buh’.  What is it?”  And the child responds with, “A ball” or “A bear” or whatever it is that you are holding.  Play this game several times a day as the child is interested.  It may take some time before the child catches on so don’t hurry this stage or move on before the child is ready.  Gradually you can make it more difficult.  You can have two objects for the child to choose from, moving up to three and on until the child can identify the object anywhere in the room.   Then you can move on to asking the child what the object starts with.  It took Pumpkin 1 a while to catch on.  Everything started with “buh” to her and I worried that she would never get it.  But then, suddenly, last week, she got it.  And she started asking what everything started with.  It’s so exciting when this happens and you can see their little minds working with this discovery.

The next stage of the game is to identify the sound at the end of words and then you move on to the sounds in the middle of words, starting off with words with 3 sounds, such as “hat” and gradually getting more difficult.  The final stage is to see how many words the child can think of that begin with or contain a sound.  Don’t worry about how “c” and “k” make the same sound or that “ch” is two letters.  This is only about sounds, the focus is on the exploration of the spoken word.  Dwyer stresses the importance of playing this game without any reference to symbols or letters, at all.  She says in italics, “Please, please do not attempt to introduce the letters to the children at this stage.”  and in all caps “DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO INTRODUCE THE LETTERS AT THIS STAGE” and again “IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT THE WHOLE ‘THE SOUND GAME’ IS EXPERIENCED WITHOUT REFERENCE TO ANY SYMBOLS, WHETHER THE SANDPAPER LETTERS, THE MOVABLE ALPHABET OR TO READING, AS THE AIM OF THIS GAME IS, AS STATED BEFORE, TO MAKE THE CHILDREN AWARE OF THE SOUNDS THEY USE IN SPEECH”.

Now, I must admit, I started off wrong.  I was introducing letters.  The fact is, it’s really hard not to because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do.  There is a lot of pressure to have your child “know their alphabet”.  Little Johnny’s mom will say, “oh Johnny can recognize all his letters, can Suzy?” or someone will point to a letter and ask your child, “what letter is this?” and you feel like you’re failing because Suzy doesn’t know her letters yet.  But if you’re following Montessori you’re teaching a different way and when the time comes, Suzy will fly through learning her letters, picking up two or three letters at a time and, if you’ve thoroughly done the Sound Game, should know all the letters in 2 to 3 weeks.  Then Suzy will quickly move to writing with the moveable alphabet because she already knows all the sounds the letters make.  So I’ve gone back, removed any letters and am focusing on just sounds with Pumpkin 1.  I’m taking to heart Dwyer’s words, “Do not rush this work for it is the foundation for all that will follow and must be thoroughly covered.”  It’s not about having your child learn things at a young age, or ahead of others, it’s about building a solid foundation so that your child understands and comprehends and builds connection with what comes next.

There are more sounds in English than just 26 letters of the alphabet.  Here are the  key sounds and symbols.

a as in am

b as in tub

c as in tic

d as in lid

e as in egg

f as in if

g as in mug

h as in hut

i as in if

j as in jam

k as in ink

l as in full

m as in am

n as in in

o as in on

p as in up

r as in run

s as in toss

t as in mat

u as in up

v as in move

w as in win

y as in yet

z as in quiz

qu as in quilt

ai as in aim

ee as in see

ie as in pie

oa as in oat

oo as in book

ue as in blue

ou as in out

oy as in toy

er as in her

ar as in car

or as in or

th as in moth

sh as in push

ch as in much

au as in Paul

The Sound Game is so easy to play, you don’t need anything special, though some people like to collect small objects for each sound to use as they create interest in the child.  However, I find this game is played at the strangest times, like when Pumpkin 1 is sitting on the toilet, or when I’m making dinner.  Sometimes we play it while waiting in the car or going for a walk.  That’s what makes it great, you can play it anywhere at any time and it doesn’t cost you anything

Once the child has master at least 2/3 of the sound game, then the sandpaper letters are introduced, followed by the moveable alphabet so that the child can express herself freely and then by the child discovering that she can read.  If a child fails to progress or is not interested in writing or reading, it is often because the proper foundation was not laid with the Sound Game.

Cursive before print?!

So the Montessori method of education teaches sounds of letters before the names, lower case before the upper case, writing before reading, and….I just learned….cursive before print!  At first I thought it was crazy.  No one uses cursive nowadays, they don’t even teach it in some schools anymore, and it’s so much more difficult.  Everything a child sees is in print, so why teach cursive first?  This is take from the following interesting article:

AMI is highly supportive of using cursive as the primary mode of writing in the Casa. Using cursive instead of ball and stick print is not an antiquated notion but a developmentally appropriate method of writing for children under the age of six. All children starting from around the age of two-and-a-half scribble using broad, loopy, continuous motions that are similar to the motions used in cursive writing. By introducing cursive instead of print, Montessori guides are matching the child’s natural movements rather than the unnatural, straight marks needed in ball and stick style writing. Unlike printing, cursive appeals to the child’s innate tendency towards perfecting his/her movement and refines fine motor skills, manual dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. In addition, cursive letters are easy for children to learn and difficult for them to reverse. Whereas the ball and stick letters “b” and “d” are easily confused and reversed, the cursive letters “b” and “d” are much clearer. Children are also better able to read cursive words because they are joined together creating a clear distinction as to where a word starts and ends. Printing does not provide this control of error. It has also been observed by multiple Montessorians that children who begin writing in cursive have little to no difficulty deciphering other forms of writing, including handwritten printing and words printed from a computer. Children who begin with printing, however, have a rough transition into cursive and do not seem to recognize it as legitimate writing. With a foundation in cursive, children in the Casa are able to adapt to any writing style with ease.

It’s actually kinda convincing.  It’s something I’m going to have to read more on.

Read the full article here http://jola-montessori.com/article/the-new-war-handwriting/

Here’s an article about the cognitive benefits of cursive writing http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/what-learning-cursive-does-your-brain

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or experiences.